A number of milestones happened in Detroit this year. There were huge developments completed and others announced, but also a construction slowdown caused by rising costs.
But amidst of all the huge trends and transformative projects, Detroit still managed to be its ecstatic, hilarious, and controversial self. Let’s recap some of the most “Detroit” things that happened in the city this last year.
“On the Lodge wit it”
During the month of July, Detroit was captivated by a video of a car recklessly doing donuts on the Lodge Freeway in the middle of the night. The video showed Dodge Chargers blocking off lanes with people walking around the freeway cheering and filming on their phones.
More surface parking lots
2019 seemed like a breaking point for Detroiters’ tolerance for parking. The Motor City has long had an over-reliance on the automobile, but the demolition of the Detroit Saturday Night Building to make way for 12 parking spots servicing luxury condo owners at the Fort Shelby was the last straw.
Criticism of the Ilitches and their sea of parking behind the Fox Theatre intensified. A new organization, Detroiters for Parking Reform, began protesting and advocating at public meetings at city hall. New tax laws were proposed to disincentivize surface lots.
Will any of it make a difference in this car-addicted region?
Charges of corruption
Fairly or not, Detroit has long been seen as a place of rampant government corruption. In 2019, Mayor Mike Duggan had his own series corruption scandals to deal with.
In May, the Detroit Free Press published a lengthy report about Duggan giving preferential treatment to the nonprofit Make Your Date run by a woman with whom he may have been having an extramarital affair. Then in October, the Inspector General found that a Duggan staffer had deleted hundreds of emails relating to the case. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel later issued a search warrant at the city’s information technology department.
Not a good look.
And let’s not forget the city’s demolition program, which has been hounded by charges of corruption. Among other issues, federal prosecutors charged two former employees of Adamo Group, a contractor that’s worked with the city on its demolition program, with taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from subcontractors to secure favorable bids.
Charges of racism
Be it redlining, policing, or hiring practices, Detroit has a long history of overt and covert racist policies. In 2019, racism reared its ugly head in Detroit.
Most prominently, Founder’s Brewing Company settled a lawsuit with a former black employee alleging racial discrimination at the company. The long saga featured an infamous transcript of a leaked deposition where the manager claimed he didn’t know the employee was black. Founder’s eventually closed its Detroit taproom through 2020.
Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit restaurant settled its own racial discrimination lawsuit with a former employee, and then didn’t renew its lease at Little Caesars Arena. Detroit Mercantile closed in January after video surfaced of the owner spitting in the face of a young black man.
Over the course of two years starting in 2013, the Heidelberg Project faced a series of 12 fires. But the open-air art installation on the east side had been spared from further arson attacks for a while. And the city’s reputation as fire hotbed has been steadily improving over the years.
But disaster struck again in 2019. On September 23, a fire broke out at the Heidelberg Project’s “You” building. Crews were able to put out the blaze, but not before it ripped through the building’s roof and busted out windows.
Stevie Wonder mural
Detroit loves to celebrate its icons (did you see Aretha Franklin’s epic funeral?), and it loves murals.
It also loves combining the two. A mural celebrating Stevie Wonder was completed earlier this year outside the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts downtown. Showcasing a smiling Wonder at his piano, it’s now one of the grandest in the city.
Detroit Youth Choir
Detroiters can sing. Period.
The world got to see that on their televisions after a series of astounding performances by the Detroit Youth Choir on NBC’s America’s Got Talent. Ultimately, the inspiring youngsters came in second place, just short of the $1 million prize. But soon after, several local foundations and organizations presented the choir with a $1 million endowment.
Detroiters are sick of regular power outages. This year, they descended on residents at the worst possible time: Thanksgiving weekend. An estimated 106,000 customers in Southeast Michigan lost power after winds destroyed power lines.
These types of events have become all too frequent due to the region’s aging infrastructure and “decaying” grid. At the same time, DTE Energy hiked rates on customers by more than $273 million this year.
As mentioned earlier, Detroit’s demolition program has faced a lot of criticism of late. But one story of accidental demolition was just plain bizarre.
On September 30, the Detroit Free Press reported that a home in Detroit owned by former State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo had been demolished. What’s remarkable is that no one knows why it was taken down or who did it. Gay-Dagnogo claimed she want it demolished and the city denied any responsibility.
The case was finally “resolved” after the owner of a local trucking company was implicated in the demolition. But, strangely, Gay-Dagnogo admitted to soliciting bids for the demolition despite saying she didn’t want it demolished. Sometimes in this city you just have to shrug.
Even in a city with a history of tortured moments in sports, it was a rough year for Detroit’s professional teams. In fact, it might have been the worst year in Detroit sports history.
The Lions, Pistons, and Red Wings all look like they’ll all have losing records that place them near the bottom of their leagues. But the Tigers were the worst of them all, finishing an abysmal 47–114 for last place in the MLB. All four teams have long rebuilding projects and none have won a playoff series since the Red Wings in 2013.